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A method is described for the recognition of free-form (unconstrained) handwritten numerals. At first the tracings of the input characters are converted into polygons, and then they are processed by a general syntactic parser whose output is a high-level representation in terms of strokes, quadratic arcs, corners, etc., in much the same way as a human observer might. Next a number of regular expressions are defined which characterize each class of symbols, and the final recognition is performed by a finite automaton. The method was tested on IEEE Data Base 1.2.2 with a success rate of about 95 percent.